1989: ‘Worst Call in NCAA Tournament History’

NC State takes the floor a few minutes after noon today for a huge NCAA Tournament match-up against the Georgetown Hoyas today. Before you go any further, we ask that you check out today’s Gameday Headlines (linked here) and SFN’s unique game preview (linked here).

For a set of bloggers that pride themselves on a having broad perspective and set of experiences that extend much longer than many in the ‘new media’ that dominate most sports coverage today, there was no way for a Wolfpack-Hoyas match-up to unfold without mention and discussion of one of the more painful experiences in NC State Basketball history. (So, you KNOW that it HAD to be bad!!)

With that said, we are reprising an entry from more than five years ago focused on Rick Hartzell’s gut wrenching mistake that cost the Wolfpack a chance to match-up with a Duke Blue Devils squard (that we had already beaten) for a shot to advance to the Final Four in 1989.

JP Giglio of the News & Observer added a little modern day spin to this painful chapter in this article yesterday.

With 1:47 left, and the Wolfpack down three, Corchiani drove down the left side of the lane and dropped in a shot over Mourning, Georgetown’s dominant center. Instead of a potential three-point play, and a fifth foul on Mourning, Hartzell called a travel on Corchiani.

“There it is!” CBS analyst Billy Packer said during the broadcast of the game, in reference to Mourning’s fifth foul.

After Hartzell’s call becomes clear, Packer was incredulous.

“Nowhere near a walk,” Packer said.

Corchiani made peace with the call before the start of the 1989-90 season. Hartzell worked a preseason game at Reynolds Coliseum and, according to Corchiani, apologized to him and former coach Jim Valvano for getting the call wrong.

The memory is painful for us all. But, when you want to know why NC State fans may have a history of complaining about officiating…well…watch it for yourself.

— The following entry originally ran on SFN on February 27, 2007 —
This one is very painful. It has been discussed numerous times in various entries on SFN in the past. This is the 1989 NCAA Sweet 16 game in the Meadowlands, NJ vs Georgetown where NC State had battled back from a 16 point halftime deficit to sit on the verge of a breakthrough. Georgetown was shell-shocked and Alonzo Mourning had four fouls. So, what does one of the smartest point guards in NCAA history do? He attacks the foul-prone big man, of course!!

For everyone that ‘hates’ on Billy Packer (we are trying to get hip here at SFN)…you have to give Packer credit for calling this play before it even happened. Additionally, he never hesitated to criticize the horrible call at the very moment that it happened. A little later, Packer referred to the call as “the worst call in NCAA Tournament history”. (A little more on Packer here)

“Nowhere near a walk. Should have been a good basket and a foul. No steps at all. Not even close! “

It was my senior year in high school and I was watching this game from Emerald Isle with a bunch of friends, including my closest friend who earlier that week had rebuffed admission into both Duke and Davidson to attend NC State (for engineering). I was pumped!! Just a week or two earlier, I had learned that I had fallen short in the final round of the Morehead Scholarship and therefore was choosing to follow my fathers’ footsteps to NC State over UNC, Duke and Wake Forest. This was supposed to be our big weekend of what it would be like in college pulling for our new school through to a Final Four appearance!! We were so pumped about experiencing some “college success” even before we got to college!

But, Atlantic Coast Conference Official, Rick Hartzell had other ideas. Hartzell’s call was SO OBVIOUSLY BAD…and SO PISS POOR that he later apologized to Coach Valvano and the Wolfpack . (Hartzell is the Athletics Director at the University of Northern Iowa and still officiates college basketball.) The apology obviously rang hollow…and speculation around HOW someone could make such a call wasn’t helped by the odd circumstances surrounding the call.

Eighteen years later, many fans remember. On an entry on StateFans last month, Hartzell’s name was discussed and a member of our community shared:

I don’t hate many people but to this day, I hate Rick Hartzell because I didn’t believe then and I don’t believe now that a ref can make a call that bad without there being some ulterior motive. I think he made the call on purpose to control the outcome of that game.

You see, Hartzell’s officiating was mired with fan criticism of his bias towards Coach K and Duke. (This was BEFORE Duke became what you know them as today). Hartzell seemed to pop-up at every major Blue Devil game in Cameron Indoor. In an annual preseason magazine that was THE BEST around, Barry Jacobs’ used to detail the records of ACC teams in games officiated by every official in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It was awesome stuff. And, the stats indicated that Duke’s winning percentage in games officiated by Rick Hartzell was significantly higher than Duke’s winning percentage in games not officiated by Hartzell.

Why is this relevant to Hartzell’s obvious travesty in NC State’s game vs Georgetown? Because, State’s next opponent after defeating the Hoyas on that Friday night was to be…you guessed it…Duke; whom State had already defeated earlier in the season and would have to face a Jim Valvano squad that clearly had its ‘March Motor’ running. Nobody wanted to face that; and everybody in the country knew it.

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85 Responses to 1989: ‘Worst Call in NCAA Tournament History’

  1. Gene 02/27/2007 at 11:09 AM #

    If that was traveling than every player attempting a lay-up travels every time they stop dribbling and take a step towards the basket.

  2. packpigskinfan23 02/27/2007 at 11:16 AM #




  3. TNCSU 02/27/2007 at 11:21 AM #

    Can anyone post a link to the video? My computer gets locked up on this page, and the video will not come up. I’ve been wanted to see this one for a while.

  4. Red 02/27/2007 at 11:23 AM #

    That play brings back soem bad memories. I was watching the game with my dad in the family living room. I remember hurling a pillow at my dad’s new TV after the crappy call ripped my 14 year old heart out. My dad didn’t even scold me for drilling the television. Unreal..

  5. tcthdi-tgsf-twhwtnc 02/27/2007 at 11:30 AM #

    That hurts to see it again.

  6. StateFans 02/27/2007 at 11:34 AM #
  7. sksr97 02/27/2007 at 11:51 AM #

    I remember it so well. Interestingly enough me and my dad were watching the game and he was torn because he was a huge G’town fan but I had 2 older brothers who had already graduated from STATE and I was soon to be a STATE student as well.
    But I remember as if it was yesterday when Chris went down the lane, got tripped by the big feet of Mourning, makes the shot and if I remember correctly Chris was in the Top 5 for FT%, all to be ripped away by an awful call.
    Basketball has been a part of my life for the past 29 years in various capacities and sad to say I have seen more than my fair share of calls actually playing a huge role in the outcome of a game!!

  8. choppack1 02/27/2007 at 12:27 PM #

    I’ll just say what I said in the thread on PackPride…Unbelievably horrid call. A call so bad and so inappropriate that an investigation should have been ordered. If you really want to be a wacko – the Georgetown-Princeton game ended w/ a phantom whistle by a ref in the closing chaotic seconds.

    Who knows what was on Rick Hartzel’s mind. However, this is one of those calls that still burns in my memory as a signature of either the incompetence and/or corruption of ACC/NCAA officials. It’s also an example of why I enjoy watching golf so much. You never walk away going, you know Tiger/Phil only won because he cheated.

  9. tractor57 02/27/2007 at 12:34 PM #

    Totally off subject here – a few years ago I sat beside a Southern Conference BB ref on a plane flight. He said his favorite fan comment during a game came from “a little old lady” who said “Wake up ref! You’re misdsing a great game”. He said ‘I thought maybe she was right”.
    I’m sure that sort of thinking never entered the mind of Hartsell or my all time worst – Lenny Wirtz.

  10. TNCSU 02/27/2007 at 12:55 PM #

    I definitely feel Basketball — more so than any other sport — can be easily influenced by only one or two bad calls because of the nature of the game. So many games are decided by the last one or two possessions, that each possession is incredibly important. Also, a call in other sports may set you back, but it doesn’t necessarily give the ball to the other team. How about that for football — can you imagine a change of possession rule? Also, I bet refs easily get 25% of out-of-bounds calls wrong. It’s tough to tell when 3 players are hitting the ball at the same time. Charging/blocking — take your pick, as about 75% of those could go either way every time — Just IMO, but those are also some of the reasons why we all LOVE College Hoops, because it DOES so often come down to that last possession.

  11. choppack1 02/27/2007 at 1:45 PM #

    “Hartzell’s call was SO OBVIOUSLY BAD…and SO PISS POOR, that he later apologized to Coach Valvano and the Wolfpack.”

    And this is why I’m not a big fan of apologies. I’m sorry, but an apology is not enough here – why did he make this call? Clearly, in this case – he was searching for something to call against Corch or NC State (let’s ignore the mugging of Rodney Monroe in the corner.)

    The why is really the important question here:
    1) Did he panic under pressure?
    2) Was he told to allow Georgetown to win due to the larger media audience Georgetown would carry?
    3) Did he hold a grudge against the wolfpack or was he pulling for Georgetown.

    There are so many times that “swallowing the whistle” is the right way to go. When in doubt, that’s what they should default to, because there was no turning back on that call.

    I’m sorry, but Hartzell’s apology would ring about as hollow as someone punching you in the face, then going “sorry about that.” This call was borderline criminal.

  12. noah 02/27/2007 at 1:54 PM #

    I didn’t think that Zo fouled Corch, but it wasn’t a travel by any means.

    That season was such a ball-breaker. All year long…we had to deal with so much garbage.

  13. Cosmo96 02/27/2007 at 1:55 PM #

    One of the posters on that thread on PackPride had, what I think, is a good theory that fits with Hartzell’s tendancies toward partiality. It seems that when the whistle blew, Hartzell paused for a split second (and you can see it on the video), as if he was going to call the foul on Mourning, but then realized it would be his fifth. The whistle had already blown, though, so he had to come up with something on the fly, and thus, NC State was victimized by the worst call in NCAA tournament history.

  14. class of 74 02/27/2007 at 2:13 PM #

    Everytime I see this I just want to explode. V was right it was as bad as any call I’ve ever seen. With that said, I don’t think Hartsell was smart enough at that moment to calculate this might benefit Duke. He was just a bad ref and I will leave it at that.

  15. Big Worm 02/27/2007 at 2:19 PM #

    “One of the posters on that thread on PackPride had, what I think, is a good theory that fits with Hartzell’s tendancies toward partiality. It seems that when the whistle blew, Hartzell paused for a split second (and you can see it on the video), as if he was going to call the foul on Mourning, but then realized it would be his fifth. The whistle had already blown, though, so he had to come up with something on the fly, and thus, NC State was victimized by the worst call in NCAA tournament history.”

    VERY interesting, and plausible, explanation of events.

  16. choppack1 02/27/2007 at 2:37 PM #

    Like I said, that’s why I’d tell him to shove his apology where the sun didn’t shine. I want to know why he made the call.

  17. Sam92 02/27/2007 at 2:40 PM #

    i remember that game, my freshman year, and we happened to be on some student trip in washington at the time and were watching it in the hotel room. that call was devastating, and so wrong.

    i remember jimmy v saying later that he was that one call away from a second national championship, and with that team i believe it — almost 20 years now we’ve been waiting to be in that position again, come on Sid, get us there

  18. Six Pack 02/27/2007 at 2:57 PM #

    Where’s HArtzell when you need him. Hansbrough would never get a shot off with him calling a game. I was in the eighth grade and me and buddy watched that game from Myrtle Beach on our Spring Break.

  19. CedarGroveWolf 02/27/2007 at 3:36 PM #

    my sr yr in HS before heading to NCSU in the fall, that call still haunts me.

  20. PapaJohn 02/27/2007 at 3:40 PM #

    I’ve seen UNC & Duke get some amazing calls, but for State this one was the worst ever. It makes me mad again thinking about it.

    That was a pretty good team as I recall. Two great guards and a great forward. (Corch, Monroe, Chucky B) The formula that won it all in 1983. I think Googs was on that team but wasn’t playing much yet. We won the ACC regular season and were ranked top twenty most of the season.
    Not sure if we’d have won it all, that was only the second weekend, the third of six NCAA games to be played but we certainly would have had momentum had we won after that comeback against one of the favored teams in the tourney.

    I believe that was Valvano’s last tournament. A terrible way to end it.

  21. choppack1 02/27/2007 at 4:41 PM #

    PJ – Starting line up for that year’s team was Corch, Monroe, Brian Howard, Chucky Brown and Avie Lester. (4 guys who would either play in the NBA). Kelsey Weems came off the bench to play some guard. I think Mickey Hinnant and D’Amico also played some. We may have just played the starting 5 plus 1 or 2 for that game. Googs was a freshman on that team. He would come on strong the next year – when our starting line up was Fire and Ice, Howard, Googs and someone else. (I know against Carolina that year we started Mickey Hinnant and won.)

  22. PackMan97 02/27/2007 at 4:50 PM #

    This happens right around 1:22-1:23 of that video when the call happens….you see the ref run into the picture point at the floor with his hand up, indicating that a foul happens on the floor. Then you see Alonzo signal travel and a second later, the ref turns and signals a travel.

    No conspiracy there…move along.

  23. tcthdi-tgsf-twhwtnc 02/27/2007 at 5:00 PM #

    I can’t make out the shot clock but State has the ball for about 43 seconds before the call. Was it 45 seconds in those days? Also, It would not of been out of the question to call a T on G’Town #12 for taunting Corch after the travel call.

  24. cedarblockhead 02/27/2007 at 5:00 PM #

    Worst call ever.

  25. wolfpackbball 02/27/2007 at 5:05 PM #

    Agree with the comments on the insane call. Also, what happened to Barry Jacobs’ fan guide? I remember waiting for that magazine every year. That was hands down THE VERY BEST EVER!!!!!!

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